Travel Stories to Inspire your (Literal) Dreams

My cabin is as comfortable as any you’ll find on a train, the bed adorned with soft sheets and pillows, and still I cannot fall asleep.   Too much on my mind, too much to process from a day exploring remote underground homes in the world’s opal mining capital, too much fun at the open bar aboard The Ghan. I typically read before bedtime as a way to put my mind to rest, but tonight my eyes are too tired to stay open, and my brain too wired to close. It would be great if someone could read me to sleep, with a safe and soothing voice. As for the story, it should be deliberately and delicately crafted to avoid anything too exciting, and take me on a peaceful journey to Sleepland.   Just so happens that Phoebe Smith, soon to be the official sleep storyteller-in-residence for the Calm mindfulness app, is in the cabin right next to mine.   I’m sure she’s sleeping like a baby.

With over 40 million downloads, 200,000 5-star reviews, and Best App of the Year Awards from both Apple and Google, the Calm app has hit a cultural bulls eye with sharpened z-shaped arrows.   It’s loaded with meditations, ambient music and soundscapes, and dozens of sleep stories narrated by folks like Matthew McConaughey, Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, and The Wire’s Clarke Peters, who has richer Morgan Freeman voice than Morgan Freeman himself.   Millions of satisfied subscribers swear that Calm does exactly as its very name suggests: it calms you down, whether you set-up an easy 15-minute Focus or Anxiety meditation, a fiction or non-fiction story to lull you to sleep, or soothing sounds to massage your ear canal.

Extreme sleeper Phoebe Smith finds a nice warm spot for the night.

“Two million people a month listen to my stories, it’s mind-blowing,” Phoebe tells me. “I admit I was sceptical, until I listened to one of my own stories and quickly fell asleep.” A year has passed since our Ghan adventure across Australia, and she’s in Vancouver on her way up north to to explore the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. Since we ran about Alice Springs trying unsuccessfully to get an epic author photo for my next book, she’s been called the JK Rowling of Sleep Stories, has been profiled in major media, and fine-tuned her craft. We’re in the lobby bar at the Hotel Vancouver, and having just flown in from Brisbane that morning, Phoebe looks like she could use a little sleep herself.   Isn’t a 14-hour flight and 17-hour time the enemy of the well rested?   “Honestly, travelling with my own pillow has been a game-changer. Your brain associates the scent of your pillow with sleep, and it really works!”  It pays to listen to someone who makes a living devoted to sleep.

Calm’s Sleep Stories

Back in the UK where she lives, Phoebe is known for her books and stories about sleeping in unusual, extreme and wild places. I quite like the fact that Calm didn’t hire a scientist or psychologist to methodically bore you to sleep, but rather a storyteller. “Storytelling is such an old tradition, it’s how knowledge and wisdom has been passed down throughout history,” says Phoebe. But hang on, aren’t you essentially writing stories so boring it puts people to sleep?    “As a kid, you didn’t want a boring story, but there’s definitely a technique involved. There can’t be too much action or excitement, and it should take you on a journey, which is why trains, boats, rivers and forests work so well.   Feedback suggests that most people fall asleep within five to ten minutes, but I get lots of emails from people around the world wanting to know more about the places I write about.”   Places like the lavender fields of Provence, the jungles of Madagascar, the Mississippi River and the forgotten forests of Morocco. There are travel stories about oceans and deserts, safaris and night skies. There are train journeys aboard the Orient Express, the Trans-Siberia, and yes, our adventure aboard The Ghan.

We both agree that stories are a far healthier alternative to medication and sleep aids.  “These days, we often treat sleep as an inconvenience,” Phoebe explains. “There’s so much going on and instantly available that we can’t switch off, which only adds to the anxiety.”   It’s why she turns off her devices at least an hour before bed, keeps her bedroom free of distractions, and is passionate about sleeping in the wild. “When it gets dark, you sleep, and when the sun rises, you wake up. It’s the natural rhythm of our bodies, and it makes you feel calm and rested.”   Unlike Phoebe, the very thought of sleeping outdoors, exposed and alone on say, a mountain top, freaks my poor brain out. So I’ll ignore her advice and keep my iPhone handy, ready to load up a Calm sleep story, and let her words inspire a blissful lullaby.

You can follow Phoebe’s extreme sleeps and wild camping here.
Learn more about Calm here.

We Won Tickets on the Ghan!


When Katie Horn received a surprise email from us that she’d won our Grand Launch Prize, she knew exactly what she’d do with it.  Gift it to her parents for a bucket list experience aboard the Ghan. Her parents Andrew and Anthea report back from their holiday of a lifetime.

Andrew and I wish to thank you, The Great Australian Bucket List competition and Great Southern Rail for making the holiday of a lifetime a reality for us.  We recently enjoyed the experience of a train trip on the Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide.

Our accommodation in Darwin was provided by the Oaks group of hotels, and the room provided a stunning night time vista. We had time to do a tour in the afternoon and take in the sights of this beautiful city.


Firstly we wish to mention the outstanding service provided by the staff on the Ghan, they could not do enough to make our trip more memorable, they were warm, friendly and we felt we got to know them through the conversations we had with them over the 3 days and 2 nights of our journey.  There were 283 guests on board, 39 carriages, 802 metres of train and all were provided with first class hospitality which made our holiday relaxing and enjoyable.  At times the train travelled around long sweeping curves and it was exciting to see the carriages in front and behind as we moved through rolling countryside.

I must also compliment the clever chefs on board for the variety on the menus, we were able to sample buffalo, emu, crocodile and kangaroo dishes.  The meals provided were sumptuous, they were an adequate size and were beautifully presented.  It was a pleasure to be shown to a different table each night in the Queen Adelaide dining car to enjoy a superb dinner with great conversation and lovely wines. The deserts were absolutely amazing and enjoyed by all.

Katherine Gorge

We found the variety of excursions to have something for everyone and we chose two cruises up the Katherine Gorge which was lots of fun with the local indigenous rangers providing us with colourful stories.  We were lucky enough to see a crocodile on the water’s edge before he slid into the murky depths, to be followed by a pungent fishy odour which denoted his presence.  As it was a very warm day we appreciated the thoughtfulness of the staff to provide us with cold water and fruit on our cruise.

We also enjoyed a tour of Alice Springs, the Memorial Hill and monuments to past wars, the Old Telegraph Station where the ranger was so passionate and knowledgeable about the facility and the early pioneers who had lived and worked on the station.  The highlight for us was a visit to the School of the Air where we were able to watch first hand a lesson between the teacher and students on outlying stations.  What a privilege to visit such an iconic educational facility.

BBQ Dinner at Alice Springs

Perhaps the highlight on last evening was a bonfire at Manguri station.  It was noted that staff had prepared for our arrival as lanterns had been placed all along the railway line to assist guests to disembark and find their way to the bonfire in the distance.  Staff had set up a table with nightcaps and chocolates and we were treated to a warm night, under the stars enjoying the company of other guests. The area around the bonfire was well set up with tables and chairs which added to the comfort and ambience of the evening.  We climbed back on board and continued on our journey southwards and arrival in Adelaide the next day.

We wish to thank everyone responsible for making the trip available to us.  We highly recommend a trip on the Ghan, if you are thinking of taking one, just do it, and you will make wonderful memories to take with you. We met folk from all walks of life, from all over Australia, England and the States.

Click here to tick The Ghan off your own Great Australian Bucket List.  Special thanks to Great Southern Rail, Oaks Hotels, Affirm Press, and everyone who entered.  Sign up to automatically be entered into future Great Australian Bucket List contests, including the next exciting one, courtesy Skydive Australia.